There had been drama enough before Gerrard collected the ball in the 83rd minute, turned back to his own goal and sent the ball towards Jose Reina a split second before realising that Henry lurked in wait. It was a moment that replicated his mistake in England's Euro 2004 first-round defeat to France in all but the conclusion. Then Henry was fouled by David James and Zinedine Zidane converted the winning penalty; this time the Arsenal striker completed the job himself.
Collecting Gerrard's calamitous back-pass, Henry accelerated past Reina and slipped in his second goal of the game to take Arsenal to within two points of Tottenham Hotspur in fourth place. It was a victory that his side had contrived to throw away but Arsène Wenger predicted afterwards that his team could now catch Liverpool in third place. "I thought if we won this game we could do it," he said. "The fact we qualified in the Champions' League gave us a little edge." They had the edge, but this was a game that came laden with incident.
Xabi Alonso was given a second yellow card for a foul that television replays showed was really an accident and Jens Lehmann, the hero of Highbury against Real Madrid on Wednesday, was at fault for Luis Garcia's equaliser. What was not in question was the supremacy of Cesc Fabregas in midfield who outshone even Alonso and made an eloquent case for his inclusion in Spain's World Cup squad.
The dismissal of Alonso was, Rafael Benitez said, the match's turning point and even the understated Liverpool manager was prepared to describe the referee Steve Bennett's award of a second yellow card as "unbelievable". The midfielder had been booked for a foul on Fabregas four minutes earlier when, on 81 minutes, he slipped as he approached Mathieu Flamini - and appeared to be signalling his apology in the act of falling - before going straight through the Arsenal man.
At first glance it merited a straight red, on further examination it was clumsiness compounded by ill fortune. However, Alonso has, of late, lost the cool that once characterised his game and Bennett ordered him off immediately. His delay in leaving the field will do him no favours. Benitez was particularly scathing about Bennett's failure to see it had been an accident.
The Liverpool manager claimed that replays showed the referee looking the wrong way as Alonso slipped and suggested that the failure of his assistant to raise a flag was crucial. "Maybe he was telepathic," Benitez claimed, although that was evidently not a quality Gerrard could claim after his error. "He made a mistake: we know that and he knows that," Benitez said. "He has scored 18 goals this season and he said sorry."
Before then, Gerrard admitted, Liverpool had a chance of "robbing a point". "It was like the France game all over, I was trying to take up time," Gerrard added. "I did not see him and the last player you want the ball to go to is the best player on the planet. It was a stupid mistake and it stopped us from robbing a point. We didn't play at all well." An honest assessment of a poor Liverpool side who had just Peter Crouch in attack and suffered in front of goal all afternoon. Crouch missed with a header in the 30th minute from Steve Finnan's cross from the right, and with no Arsenal defender in attendance. At the other end a dazzling piece of work from Fabregas and Henry had given Arsenal the lead on 21 minutes.
Fabregas' through-ball was weighted so perfectly that it beat the lunges of four Liverpool players to arrive on Henry's toes. Cutting in from the left flank the striker struck a shot just beyond Reina's reach and inside the goalkeeper's far post. Earlier Emmanuel Adebayor had missed a simple chance created for him by Henry and before the end of the half Emmanuel Eboue lost his nerve in front of goal.
Twice Henry missed chances to seal the game before Liverpool equalised - a goal which Wenger believed should have been disallowed for a foul by Alonso on Fabregas. Gerrard's fierce shot was punched into the air by Lehmann and, of those dashing into the box, Luis Garcia was first to head the ball into the net.
Henry's winner left Arsenal in fifth place and one point clear of Blackburn Rovers. Arsenal can overhaul Tottenham when their rivals visit Highbury on 22 April. "It's a little hangover [for Liverpool] from their Champions' League exit," Wenger said. "You grieve a little after that." At Arsenal, the time for mourning appears to be over.
Goals: Henry (21) 1-0; Garcia (76) 1-1; Henry (83) 2-1.
Arsenal (4-4-2): Lehmann; Eboué, Touré, Senderos, Flamini; Hleb, Fabregas, Gilberto, Ljungberg (Pires, 15); Adebayor (Bergkamp, 67), Henry. Substitutes not used: Song, Almunia (gk), Djourou.
Liverpool (4-4-1-1): Reina; Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia, Warnock; Kromkamp (Kewell, h-t), Alonso, Hamann (Fowler, 73), Gerrard; Garcia; Crouch. Substitutes not used: Dudek (gk), Morientes, Traoré.
Referee: S Bennett (Kent).
Booked: Liverpool Alonso, Garcia.
Sent off: Alonso.
Man of the match: Fabregas.
Attendance: 38,221.Reuse content